Does it matter how you interact with the opposite sex at work?
You're working late at the office one Thursday evening, and suddenly you realize your chances for eating at a reasonable time passed hours ago. As you prepare to pack up your laptop, you see another light at the end of the hall. It’s your boss. Seeing that you, his diligent employee, are still burning the midnight oil, he offers to take you to dinner since you both can now hear your stomachs growling from across the room. Suddenly your mind reels with questions: You’ve worked so hard today. And it’s just dinner. But what would your pastor say? What would your friends say? Better yet, what would your boss’s wife say?
With the advent of women into the workforce, men and women are together now more than ever. In 2009 women accounted for 46.8 percent of the labor force. In the coming years that number is only expected to rise as women now outnumber men on many college campuses. In addition, the recession has led to greater layoffs for men than women, leaving women in the majority in some fields. With women now comprising nearly half of the labor force, situations like the above story are becoming the more frequent.
From corporate America to the church office, we cannot escape the often uncomfortable situations that our careers find us in. Many are thrust into environments where lunch meetings are the norm. Some are required to travel with the opposite sex on business trips. And the reality is that sometimes we simply cannot avoid these things. While the Bible doesn’t say “thou shall never travel with a woman or have lunch alone with a male co-worker,” there are guidelines to help us think through our working relationships with the opposite sex.
What the Bible Says About Boundaries
Before we begin thinking about boundaries, we have to see ourselves as the Bible sees us. The Bible says that apart from Christ our hearts are corrupted (Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3). Even after conversion we still wrestle through sin and temptation (Romans 7:15-20). Some of our best intentions toward a member of the opposite sex (married or unmarried) can deceive us. Until we are perfected in resurrected bodies we will struggle to purge the sin that still remains in us. We have to understand this about ourselves as we spend our days around the opposite sex.
Romans 14:16 and Ephesians 5:3 warn the Christian to even avoid situations where good can be misconstrued as evil. Closed door meetings with the opposite sex, private lunch meetings and traveling in the car alone all might be innocent to you, but to an outsider looking in might tell a very different story. Even Paul understood that men and women must be careful in how they interact with one another. He tells young Timothy to always treat older women as mothers and younger women as sisters (1 Timothy 5:2). Paul not only understands something very important about the human heart, but also how we are created as human beings.
Understanding Male and Female
Some have argued that to highlight the need for boundaries implies that women can only be defined as sexual objects beckoning for adultery. In their minds this only perpetuates the roadblocks to female success in the working world. So to understand workplace boundaries we need to first understand how God created us.
For many years now it has been considered trendy to have a male/female best friend. Our televisions broadcast shows that celebrate casual male/female relationships at work. Sure people fall in love with each other and get hurt, but if you all go grab some drinks at the bar at the end of the episode everyone recovers by this time next week. So often we are feeding on a steady diet of entertainment that shows us all of the “glory” and none of the pain. The Bible paints a different picture.
Men and women were made for something far more intimate than the casualness of a work environment. When God created Eve, he was making someone for Adam who would be a lot more than another helper in the Garden. She completed him. She was his one-flesh partner. And together, though now flawed because of sin, they reflected the glory of a coming perfect marriage — Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). This is something that a casual male/female relationship can never reflect. This doesn’t mean that every relationship with a member of the opposite sex is now a lie. But it does mean that our creation as male and female cannot be ignored as we think through our workplace interactions.
Define Your Boundaries
Here are some questions to get you thinking about your own boundaries:
- How do you interact with the opposite sex at work?
- Are you doing things because you like the attention a male or female co-worker gives you?
- Are there adjustments you can make to your work relationships?
- Are there older men and women at your church who can help you think about how to honor Christ at work (Titus 2:3-7)?
For example, treating a younger woman like a sister might mean keeping conversations, even if they have to be done over lunch, platonic. Avoiding good appearing as evil means not engaging in anything that could cause people to think you were crossing the line with a member of the opposite sex (i.e. flirting, long meetings with the door always closed, always attending private meetings off-site alone, traveling alone without accountability). Seeking out accountability in your church provides protection for you and can help establish a framework for thinking through your boundaries.
A friend of mine asked her husband to hold her accountable for her interactions with an attractive male co-worker. Whenever she felt herself lingering over conversation with him she would politely move on from the conversation and tell her husband that evening. For her, this was a protection against her own sinful tendencies and the temptation to allow a friendship with another man to blossom in the work environment. She recognized that if she did not have someone holding her accountable the lines would get grey really fast.
God also has given us freedom to think through the myriad of circumstances that we face. He cares about our hearts ultimately because out of our hearts will flow actions (Matthew 12:34, Luke 6:45). We must never underestimate the pull of sin that still lingers in our mortal bodies. We are not yet perfect; therefore, we are prone to be tempted and lured by the enticing nature of sin — even in our own workplace.
As Dr. Russell Moore says in his book, Tempted and Tried,
Forces are afoot right now, negotiating how to get you fat enough for consumption and how to get you calmly and without struggle to the cosmic slaughterhouse floor. The easiest life for you will be one in which you don’t question these things, a life in which you simply do what seems natural. The ease of it all will seem to be further confirmation that this is the way things ought to be. It might even seem as though everything is happening exactly as you always hoped it would. You might feel as though your life situation is like progressing up a stairway so perfect it’s as though it was designed just for you. And it is. In many ways the more tranquil you feel, the more endangered you are.
Most people don’t wake up one day and decide to commit adultery. In fact, many would say that it started rather innocently. A little lunch and a little email, and the next thing they knew they were throwing their entire marriage (or future marriage) away. Having lunch with a co-worker of the opposite sex does not mean you are on the fast track to fornication. And there are instances where your job might require you to interact with a man or woman in a way that makes you uncomfortable. But these are exceptions rather than the rule.
Most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have far too casual an understanding of how we interact with men or women. While there are not clear, biblical commands regarding workplace interactions, there is a devil prowling around looking for someone to devour. If we are not careful to understand our own pull toward temptation, we may just fall prey to his deadly blow.
Copyright 2011 Courtney Reissig. All rights reserved.